The times sure have changed for the Ocean Downs Casino over the last eight years.
Today the casino has more than 880 slot machines and 10 banked table games. It employs hundreds and is an economic engine for the county.
In the years leading up to its 2011 opening as a casino, the thought of the ocean oval on Route 589 adding slot machines was feared by Ocean City and Worcester County officials. The primary concerns involved the assumption it would hurt Ocean City’s tourism base by providing increased competition through free food and meals as well as impug its family reputation. Additionally, there were traffic concerns for Route 589, worries over addiction issues growing and the area’s poor becoming worse off with gambling so readily available.
Thanks to hindsight, it’s official the evils pitched primarily by Ocean City officials never materialized. The people of Worcester County and especially Maryland wanted gambling. They supported slots in a referendum and then backed the expansion to table games.
The financial numbers behind the casino are staggering. Ocean Downs Casino saw the state’s largest increase in gaming revenue in a comparison of May 2018 to May 2019. The Ocean Downs Casino generated $7.2 million in May, representing an increase of nearly 13% compared to May 2108.
A portion of the revenue (33.5%) is dedicated to an education trust fund for the state as well as to Worcester County through local impact grants (5.5%). By law, the impact grants are awarded with 60 percent going to the county, Ocean City getting 20 percent and Berlin and Ocean Pines each receiving 10 percent. In July of 2011, the kickback to the county totaled $208,000. In May of 2019, the local impact grant was $356,746 with total fiscal year contributions totaling $3.5 million with another month to record.
The revenue is making a difference and is largely used to fund infrastructure improvements. For example, Berlin is using its casino distribution to pay off its new police station.
Furthermore, in the form of low-interest loans, revenue from the casino has been used to help jumpstart fledgling businesses in need of an immediate cash injection. For instance, back in 2016, the Hoop Tea company received a $250,000 loan through the VOLT program, which is directly funded by dollars spent at the casino as part of the legislation approving slot machines in Maryland. Three years ago, a coffee shop in Snow Hill also received a low interest loan through the program.
The positives of the casino being in Worcester County far outweigh the negatives today. That comes as a welcome surprise to many.